The annual induced abortion rate in Bangladesh is estimated to be 28 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-49, according to a new study, "Estimating the Level of Abortion in the Philippines and Bangladesh," by Susheela Singh of The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), Altaf Hossain and Haidary Kamal of the Bangladesh Association for Prevention of Septic Abortion, and Josefina V. Cabigon and Aurora E. Perez of the Population Institute of the University of the Philippines. Official data on clandestine, unsafe induced abortion do not exist because of the illegality of the procedure; however, using both data from women hospitalized for abortion complications and estimates of the total number of menstrual regulations, the authors estimate that the rate of induced abortions in Bangladesh is very close to that of the United States (24 per 1,000 women aged 15-44).
While the Bangladeshi penal code permits abortion only to save a woman\xC3s life, menstrual regulation by vacuum aspiration is not regulated by the code and is considered to be an "interim method for establishing nonpregnancy" that can be used up to 10 weeks gestation. Even so, many women do not know menstrual regulation is available or are unaware of the gestational limits, and therefore they obtain abortions from traditional midwives or attempt to perform the abortion themselves.
The difficulties that women and couples experience in trying to control their family size and space their births is evident: An estimated 18% of pregnancies are resolved by abortion, and an additional 33% are unplanned births. The researchers speculate that high levels of abortion in the mid-1990s are a result of still high levels of nonuse or poor use of contraceptives.
The study, featured in AGI\xC3s September 1997 issue of International Family Planning Perspectives, documents the serious public health problems of maternal mortality resulting from unsafe abortion and the heavy demand for hospital services to treat abortion complications. For example, each year more than 50,000 Bangladeshi women are hospitalized for complications resulting from unsafe induced abortion.
The authors suggest that in Bangladesh, where abortion is legally restricted but menstrual regulation exists, improving menstrual regulation services could substantially reduce unsafe abortion. They also suggest that contraceptive counseling and referrals for women being treated for complications of abortion are greatly needed to reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortion.
The Alan Guttmacher Institute is a non-profit organization for reproductive health research, policy analysis and public education, with offices in New York and Washington, D.C.
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